Advocating for family medicine
under the pink dome
By Anastasia Benson, D.O.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in to the TAFP office. Being a recipient of the TAFP Foundation’s James C. Martin, M.D., Scholarship but conducting the internship during the legislative session rather than in the summer was a new experience for everyone involved. Looking back on my two weeks in Austin, I can say my experience with TAFP has forever changed my life and view of the impact we as physicians have on Texas politics. Hopefully you, too, can explore our Capitol, but let’s start back at the beginning of my whirlwind trip.
Though I attended medical school at the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, I am a native Texan. Hailing from Prosper, a small town just north of Dallas, I always dreamed of becoming a family physician. I am currently completing my residency at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, where I am a second-year resident.
I’ve always had a hidden passion for politics. Growing up in a small town, politics were all around us. From the school to the gas station to the football game, everywhere you turned you were immersed in small-town politics. Perhaps these experiences kindled my interest. However, events occurring in my first month of medical school piqued my interest in health policy. Many things changed on the federal level that month, including the abolishment of the 20/220 pathway for loan repayment, which was an important vehicle for loan repayment during residency. I was shocked, and this change still affects me and my colleagues today. Later that year I helped with grass-root efforts to avoid the first of many potential large Medicare reimbursement cuts.
When I received notice that I had won the James C. Martin, M.D., Scholarship, I was ecstatic. March 2013 arrived and I made my way down to Austin, where my stint began at the C. Frank Webber Lectureship and Interim Session. At the Committee on Legislative and Public Affairs meeting and later at the Board of Directors meeting, members voted unanimously to support Medicaid expansion with no strings attached, setting the tone for the next two weeks.
TAFP wasn’t the first to publicly support Medicaid expansion, nor will it be the last, but our support could not have come at a more opportune time. Over the next few days, Sen. Bob Deuell, M.D., R-Greenville, wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Perry with his thoughts on Medicaid reform, followed shortly by Senate Bill 1477, outlining his ideas. Supporters of Medicaid expansion marched to the steps of the Capitol, where former AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., of Waco, addressed the masses along with lawmakers and other speakers. Then the agency heads and state representatives discussed the financial ramifications of expanding the program at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee, and multiple groups held a public discussion about a set of reports touting the benefits of expansion. In addition to national, state, and local coverage on the matter, it was all the buzz around the Capitol, TAFP CEO Tom Banning and the TAFP advocacy team hit the steps supporting it.
The 83rd Texas Legislature has many important issues on the docket that affect us as family physicians, and TAFP diligently sorts through the more than 5,000 bills. During my two weeks with TAFP, the Legislature debated a few issues that you may not have heard about on the evening news, including changes to the Medicaid vendor drug program, funding “back transfers” for NICUs, increasing GME funding, restoring the physician loan repayment program, silent PPOs, price transparency, and multiple scope of practice issues. Things move fast at the Capitol, and busy professional lives often make it difficult to be well informed on these numerous bills.
If you are okay with others (often non-physicians) determining how you practice medicine, disregard everything I have said. Otherwise, it’s your turn to speak up. We are in unprecedented times, and the practice of medicine is literally changing before our eyes. We as family physicians must not rely on our neighbors to use their voices; we must each use our own voice to be heard and encourage those around us to speak up, too. Increase the power of your voice by donating to the TAFP Political Action Committee.
As I settle back down into resident-life mode, I will always look back fondly on my two weeks with the TAFP staff. For those who have not met them, they are very passionate and dedicated to supporting our members and I would like to thank each one of them for their guidance on my journey. And a special thank you to Dr. James Martin and his scholarship fund, as it afforded me this amazing opportunity to learn the behind-the-scenes of what our organization does for its members and how health policy shapes our profession and our community from the perspective of the trenches beneath the pink granite dome. TAFP scholarships such as this one are funded through the TAFP Foundation, and they help provide new experiences to its younger members, developing leaders for the future.
Health policy is the art of the possible; and in the future of medicine, all is possible. Now is the time to make your mark on family medicine.